#JusticeForWhoNext?: Remembering Our ‘Stolen’ Amazons
For a long time now, Nigerians have had their bellies filled with grief. We become constipated with it every time we remember that one in every four Nigerian women has been raped in their lifetime, as is documented in a 2019 NOI Polls.
It seems like our grief is reborn whenever we hear a new case of a Nigerian woman being raped and killed. It feels like that with every single hashtag.
Sometimes, analysis on this issue sparks up cynical vendetta peddling and petty debates. But those who see the true picture understand that it is actually a portrait of increasing sexual-based violence, with women as the core victims.
What we can’t see right now is whose hashtag is going to trend next. We are tired of immortalising innocent people with social media activities, tracking our grief with digital algorithms. We are tired of mourning innocent amazons whose lives were snatched for no justifiable cause.
We remember the names: Iniubong Umoren, 26-year-old Akwa-Ibom Jobseeker; Obiamaka Oruakwe, 14-year-old student; Favour Okechukwu, 11-year-old student; Uwaila Omozuwa, 22-year-old student; Cynthia Okogosu, 22-year-old entrepreneur; Barakat Bello, 18-year-old student; Grace Oshiagwu, 21-year-old student; Tina Ezekwe, 16-year-old student; Mary Daramola, 18-year-old student; Ochanya Ogbanje, 13-year-old student; Khadijah Y’au, 6-year-old student; and to the hundreds more unreported. We remember.
Imagine what their lives could have become had they been spared. Over the years, women have risen from the backseat of the polity to become pilots of progress in every facet of society.
In Nigeria, we have several women who have championed significant innovations and have broken or set records. Umoren or any of those earlier mentioned stood a chance to become one of them. Now, they sleep six feet below. And for every time we remember, it feels like a tremendous blow.
Flicker of Hope?
While tracing the digital footprints of the murdered women, we found the virtual pages of social media plastered with thoughts, ideas, frustrations, and even regrets of Nigerians eager to migrate to other safer climes.
Shortly before the pandemic, Nigeria had more pending refugee protection claims in Canada alone than any other country globally. We are barely recovering from the problems of illegal migration.
Recall that around 20,000 Nigerians were involved in the Mediterranean sea crossing, as of 2017. Nowadays, it is easy to find these aspirants in their thousands on social media, exchanging ideas and resources to help each other migrate from the country.
Within the United States, for instance, Nigerians are the most educated immigrant group resident in the country, 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute shows.
From the likes of John Boyega to David Oyelowo, down to Anthony Joshua and the Silas Adekunles dominating the diaspora with their genius, one can easily guess that talent thrives easier in those Western climes. But is running away actually the price for safety?
What can be done to stem the tide? Firstly, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Nigerians would have never made any progress tracking the killers of Umoren had it not been the concerted efforts of thousands of individuals on social media who retweeted, contacted, and ‘burned the midnight oil’ until the whereabouts of the criminals surfaced.
While security officials perform a major role in netting criminals, citizens are the most cogent source of information and monitoring. But can this work where there is mass disunity, where several tribes are pitting their heads against each other, forgetting the universal kinship of humanity?
The issue of disunity is even spreading beyond culture, as it is now becoming a PatriarchyFc vs FeministFc division now and then on social media.
And it borders down to the issue of collective guilt. A clinical psychologist, Dr. Oreofe Moiett explains that “collective guilt is a reality for men; because it feels like they are constantly put on a blast on social media. But it is a wonderful thing that you are feeling some type of way seeing another person of the same gender committing these atrocities.
It shows your level of empathy. But it is advised that you should not allow yourself to feel directly guilty for it. Stay in empathy and understand that when you hear all men, it is not because you are directly at fault. Remember that the reason you are feeling guilty is that you have empathy. If we all learn to stay in the space of empathy, we would be much more tolerant with each other.”
Rape and, generally, crime apology is another menace that has to go. It is inexcusable to rape, kidnap or murder another human being. And this is a rule of humanity, even before it becomes a rule of law.
If the memories of these women we have listed are anything to be honoured, then it is high time we increased advocacy on a need for harbouring positive viewpoints on rape and crime in general.
Looking into the issue, Dr. Akiode Afolabi, the founding director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center, in a previous chat with The Guardian highlights that existence of laws is not the problem; it is a lack of implementation that bedevils us.
“Nigeria became the first country in West Africa to pass the Violence Against Persons Act at the national level. The truth of the matter is some of these laws are not properly implemented. Some statutory bodies are supposed to be created under the law yet, they have not been created in about 80 percent of the states where the violence against a person act has been passed, even at the federal level. Also, the fact that the institution and the governors are not very responsive to issues relating to women and children, it means we don’t have enough shelters, we don’t have enough mechanisms that can help women out of this violence. Across Africa, patriarchy is still endemic. At the level of community, at the level of the state, and even at the level of those who are making laws, they still see women as a second-class citizen[s] and so you see women suffer a lot from widowhood practices, genital mutilation, sexual and gender-based violence and a whole lot of violence that in communities.”
Afolabi also believes that there is a need to create more awareness in the media on how to stem this tide of Gender-based Violence, and it is definitely also relevant for all other forms of crime.
For some others, Nigeria needs to boost more effort in support systems for sexual assaults referral centres (SARC). As some women are traumatised, if they are lucky enough to survive the incident, they do not report the crime immediately to the police. Hence, these referral centres provide physical and mental health care, including forensic services.
The core argument is, “What sustained support is available for the SARCs? Other support services that are lacking include temporary shelter, free medical care, livelihood support, etc.,” as noted by the Managing Partner of the Lagos-based SARC, Mirabel Centre, Itoro Eze-Anaba.
She also adds that Nigeria lacks a survivor-centred justice system beginning with the police up to the courtrooms.
Eze-Anaba notes that if she were privileged to become Nigeria’s President her onslaught against this menace of Gender-Based Violence would be to persistently “speak out publicly against rape and sexual violence, tackle rape culture in the country, and put in place a 3-year National Action Plan against rape and sexual violence, as well as provide needed financial support to implement the Action Plan.”
Advocacy. Legislation. Implementation.
So far, this is the trinity solution being championed by stakeholders across multiple professional cadres. Perhaps these can help to stem the tide.
But, what next? How do we heal from the grief we have been overfed? How do we recover as a country? The answer is ‘together’. Rapists are everywhere. Criminals are everywhere.
They live among us. It is our responsibility to be the front guard, tackling issues of sexual violence and crime, in general, by reporting offenders, or suspects and by looking out for each other. It is our duty to propagate a healthy anti-crime mindset among our children, by teaching them about these issues consistently. We must say ‘Enough’.
Do we stand a chance at rape and crime-free society? Like Eze-Anaba notes, as long as there are rapists and criminals, there would always be rape and crime. But do we stand a chance at a rapist and criminal-free society? Yes, we do.
Yes, we remember Umoren, Ezekwe, Uwaila, and everyone who has been caught in this vicious cycle, every second of our lives. They are now metaphors for our rebellion.
We would rebel against this pandemic of violence because that is all we got. We would fight against this insecurity, together.
Until people become more humane to each other, there is work to be done. Even if things are falling apart, we are the centre that must hold it together. It is our fight for freedom and we must win it.
So, we hope that this time the hashtags end.
We hope we do not get to write this tribute again.